Isn’t it time we discussed the intellectual infantilization of American women? That is, of American girls—for the process of cognitive corrosion commences in childhood, if not even earlier than that. As soon as a girl is birthed, she finds herself surrounded by attendants, by zealous busybodies who restlessly devote their boldest energies to sheltering the girl, to protecting her—from what, we are never entirely sure; we know only that there are an infinite number of mortal dangers relentlessly menacing this fragile being. Yet, these saintly shepherds seldom extend their aegis to her brother: is this negligence, or are the predators believed to be preying on the goose uninterested in pursuing the gander?
Perhaps we can seek moral clarity from Pete Buttigieg, the philosopher-shepherd who promises to deliver our girls from the tyranny of Trump. Buttigieg—we respect ourselves enough to refuse to refer to him as ‘Mayor Pete’—is the preacher of the Trumpish apocalypse, describing the glorious sunrise of a January morning on which Trump is no longer the President of the United States. His is a deceivingly rapturous image, one which relishes the fruits of rebirth but forgets the destruction and death that invariably precede it—for one cannot be born again without first having died. He is enamored by the morning, but what has he to say of the midnight before?
Empty promises, empty threats: the breadth and depth of American politics. There is nothing more fundamentally American than emptiness, than the absence of effort: so vigorously do we disparage effort, we are happy to work ten times as hard, just to avert it! Why do we coddle and pamper our girls, why do we construct bulwarks around them, why do we remove them as far as possible from the realities of life, if not to evade the arduous effort of raising them, of bringing them into life—of humanizing them? For in America, the dehumanization of girls and women is a ritual of cultural virtue: from the moment of birth, a girl is treated not as a human being, but as an ineffably delicate item that is to be enclosed in glass, elevated, and venerated. She is fetishized, and this fetishization I submit as proof that coddling is inherently depraved.
We must understand that they are coddled because they are girls, because their sex is seen as some kind of weakness. Their self-appointed guardians expect them to be weak, perhaps even need them to be weak in order to maintain the need for guardians. Such an expectation is deeply pessimistic and crudely insulting, as dehumanization invariably is—but what of the reciprocal expectation, the myth that boys are born with superhuman strength, without need of nurturing, and any weakness—emotional weakness, especially—is unbecoming and unforgivable? This is dehumanization, as well, yet its caustic spiritual effects are obscured by the implicit, misguided praise of the superhuman—and what is the superhuman if not the sloppiest rendering of dehumanization?
Our irrational response is twofold: to humiliate boys when they fail to be strong, and to humiliate girls when they fail to be weak. Like a good feminist, Pete Buttigieg relishes the former but prefers the latter as the more refined and subtle form of hate, and on Thursday night, he prepared a sadistic spectacle in which his female victims were displayed before an audience of hundreds. As I waited in line, two hours after being rejected for a Buttigieg rally that was not open to the public, one of his campaign employees asked the woman in front of me if she wanted to sit onstage with “Mayor Pete”, to which she replied:
“I’m with my two sons. Can they sit with me?”
“No, it’s for women only. Sorry. If they were your daughters, they could!”
This woman and her sons, neither of whom was over the age of eight, eventually made their way into the auditorium of Bow High School and took their seats. They had a clear view of the stage, on which were forty-two empty chairs and a large banner reading: “Building Power: A Women’s Agenda for the 21st Century”. My view was even better, seated as I was in the front row, where I knew I would have the best chance of asking him if he would defend the life of Julian Assange. I was reading my book for twenty minutes before fourteen girls, many of them young, were packed into the passageway to my right. A few minutes later, they were shepherded onto the stage, just as another batch of women, several of them older, were penned in at the same spot. Soon, they joined the others, and likewise for the third and final collection.
Forty-two women, all of them ostensibly random fans of Buttigieg, were culled from the crowd to have the honor of staring at his back while he spoke. He hadn’t arrived yet, nor would he until nigh an hour after the event was scheduled to start, even though his previous rally was held maybe five miles away, in Concord. In the meantime, campaign employees dispersed plastic yellow placards reading, “Women for Pete”, while another employee instructed the staged ladies how and when to cheer for the cameraman that raced past them—when directed to do so.
Buttigieg arrived fashionably late, and while I probably wasn’t the only one who remained seated for the standing ovation, and while I definitely wasn’t the only one who declined to shout, “Pete! Pete! Pete!” most likely I was the only one who continued to read Nietzsche as the candidate waved to the crowd. I didn’t want to be rude, but when one is threatened to be swallowed by a mob of the shameless, one must evade the lethal embarrassment however one can. I’ve been to football games, so I’m quite conversant with the poses and rhythms of the human beast, but political rallies are so much more frightening because here, the spirit is degraded intellectually, as well.
Invariably, a political rally is a pseudointellectual ritual: there is no escaping the prestigious aura, the ethereal respectability, the smothering feeling that one is making a difference just by listening to a celebrity recite a mellifluous speech, especially when one has already heard the same speech before. I, at least, hadn’t heard this particular sermon of Buttigieg’s: when a speech is unfamiliar, it is much more interesting and, for the same reason, much more painful. It examines the problem of institutional sexism in America and, predictably, how President Buttigieg will solve it. His first example of such bigotry is “an economic system” in which Megan Rapinoe is paid less for winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup than a male player whose team failed to qualify for the most recent tournament.
In referencing Rapinoe, Buttigieg appeals to an urbane audience, one sophisticated enough to pay attention to the political activism of a second-tier celebrity—and thereby proves he will never beat Trump. The working class might agree with Rapinoe, assuming firstly that they have heard of her, but it is only the upper class that would become emotionally invested in her fight. Inadequate pay, wage stagnation, the cost of living: urgent issues all, but when Buttigieg personifies them within Rapinoe, he purges them of pertinence and reduces them to an inconsequential pop culture spat—which is not the most inaccurate description of our political process. Nevertheless, the upper-class audience ate it up, and when Buttigieg announced his plan to print Harriet Tubman’s image on the twenty-dollar bill, the crowd feasted on its unchecked delight.
Buttigieg blames institutional sexism for Hillary Clinton’s historic failure, too: “We have a system where a woman who wins the popular vote loses to a man.” The electoral college is indefensible, but this is the first time I have heard it described as inherently sexist. Does Buttigieg believe that, if a male candidate won the popular vote and his female opponent won the electoral vote, then the man would be elected president? For all of the strident calls to regulate fake news, it is telling that no one has complained of the fusillade of misinformation unleashed every day in stump speeches. We might blame the limited media coverage, although the total power of media proves insufficient to depict Clinton’s defeat as a comeuppance, as gluttonous corruption culminating in fatal choking. Buttigieg doesn’t comprehend this, either, but he does try to resuscitate Clinton’s bloated corpse, long past the hope of basic recovery.
When will these politicians, moralists, and clumsy ethnographers learn that they cannot convince the Trumpeters that they are to blame for our national dysfunction? When will they learn that you cannot force a person to feel guilty, not without years of psychological agony and spiritual torment? Their didacticism is doubly distasteful when it is meant to inspire sympathy for Hillary Clinton, a mass-murdering terrorist whose crimes against humanity will never be tallied. Perhaps our cultural sexism is evident, not in the structure of the electoral college, but in our failure to understand how a woman could be a despotic psychopath, how a woman could surpass her male contemporaries in bloodthirsty conquest and rapacious plunder, how a woman could more than earn her place on the list of the twenty-first century’s most accomplished war criminals.
The apologists for Hillary Clinton are rooted—personally, ideologically, and inextricably—in the odious sludge of third-wave and fourth-wave feminist theory. The failure of feminism in America is the failure of third-wave feminists, who abandoned the pursuit of economic justice, of economic liberty, in favor of an awkward and often inappropriate reevaluation of our cultural gestures. These gestures, which were never any more than the most superficial expression of something unknown (and perhaps unknowable), were of interest only to upper-class academics. They quit the quest for economic justice—not because they were too comfortable and complacent to be concerned about it, but, on the contrary, because they were repulsed by the possibility of coming into contact with the lower classes.
Fourth-wave feminism is the noxious backwash of the third wave, too shallow to conceal its own absurdity, but much too acidic to be harmless. Fourth-wave feminism teaches us that it is sexist to acknowledge Clinton’s penchant for bloodshed, or Kamala Harris’s fascistic fantasies, or the anti-democratic tyranny of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fourth-wave feminism teaches us that we are petty, even selfish, if we condemn Clinton for murdering 80,000 Libyans, many of them women and children, and for reducing the survivors’ so-called society to a dystopian landscape in which women are sold into sexual slavery. Fourth-wave feminism teaches us that it is only the deplorable and uncouth—in other words, the lower classes—who note and protest the untenable immorality of the Democratic Party. Fourth-wave feminism discourages us from pausing to ask ourselves why we gather at Bow High School—Bow being one of the wealthiest towns in New Hampshire—and watch this politician local women, including the only two women of color in attendance, as props in this long-form advertisement for his campaign.
The use of props and symbols is key to understanding Buttigieg’s dishonest message. He credits “a black woman” for founding the #MeToo movement, as if to prove that he does his research on “these issues”, unlike those micro-aggressors who think #MeToo was the work of privileged white women—but what, exactly, is his point? Do black women face less discrimination, now that Pete Buttigieg has acknowledged the proper origins of #MeToo? Concordant with his unfinished story of the morning on which Trump is no longer the president, he never successfully bridges the cause and the effect. A similar disconnect is evident in his plan to “invest” $10 billion to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, although he never explains how this money will be spent or why this specific sum is needed. Perhaps it was chosen to impress the audience with its impressive size, or perhaps there was no discernible motivation—possible, as the program will never come into being.
Another interesting ornament is his plan to build the White House Council on Women and Girls. At last, the government can abandon its pretense and ceremony; at last, the government can emerge as the quintessential shepherd to tend to the feminine flock! Without commenting further on this sinister insistence of the government to act as the guardian of one half of the population, might we question to the conflation of women and girls? Why would women and girls comprise one group, one category? Is the child indistinct from the adult? Is the caterpillar indistinct from the butterfly—and vice-versa? If so, then what unflattering, even devastating, assessment is this of the process of metamorphosis? Furthermore, if the girl and the woman are one and the same, and if they require a “council” to keep them upright, then one might ask why the council inevitably fails to protect the girl, and so must go on protecting the woman? And if this council has failed to protect the girl, then why should it be permitted to “protect” the woman, too?
This unsettling portrait of perpetual dysfunction, one which is not incidentally Kafkaesque, raises questions about what will happen to the boys who are not encompassed by these central auspices, who are not caught up in the reach of state. My first instinct is to congratulate these boys for having evaded, through no effort of their own, the paralysis of incessant supervision, come though it may at the cost of their social stability. Might it be that social instability is the surest precursor to human strength and volition, and that this governmental exclusion redounds to our boys?
Of course, there is the reciprocal possibility. This program could be the latest omen of the deeply bleak prospects awaiting the boys of today, the boys who are told, despite having harmed no one at all, that they are disfigured spiritually and ruinous intellectually. This treacherous philosophy, articulated by identity politics as promoted in the corporate media, quite seriously equates education, candor, and personal convalescence with misogyny. Subsequently, and by definition, it attributes ignorance, delusion, and self-destruction to femininity! One would think that such a toxic vichyssoise of irrationality would appeal only to the incurably insane, but human beings are often seduced by that which harms them: we must be, or else Buttigieg wouldn’t have showcased forty-two women who had never even met him and presented himself as a reasoned feminist.
Incidentally, he had something unkind to say about Julian Assange, a man who has been the victim of a prominently sexist slander. Among the many other fallacious accusations surrounding him in the corporate media, he is often accused, quite in contradiction to all of the evidence, of rape. This particular form of defamation did not come up when I asked Buttigieg if he would defend the world’s most persecuted journalist, but perhaps it can be blamed, at least in part, for the dehumanizing applause of the audience.
Well, Buttigieg—or Mayor Pete, as you prefer to be known, and as I am no longer so energized as to resist the slogan—I have no idea if you saw me leave the auditorium and the high school as soon as I closed out the recording, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I left you to speak about that glorious sunrise that will open on the day, whether in 2021 or in 2025, when Trump is no longer the president of these United States. I have no idea if the audience continued to applaud your tasteless perfidy, any more than I have any idea what the next thirteen months on the campaign trail will bring. I was too distracted by the young man who was running the camera for a local media campaign, who stopped me to thank me for standing up for Assange.
It wasn’t until I got back to my car that I thought about that sunrise you repeatedly reference. If you, or someone as maladaptively manipulative as you, is president on the day that Trump walks away, then there won’t be much of a sunrise, after all.